The virtual opening ceremony for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month began Wednesday evening with a discussion about rediscovering cultural identities as well as anti-Asian racism in the wake of the Georgia massage parlor shootings in which eight people were killed, most of whom were Asian women. The shootings sparked discussion over the long history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the United States and rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly against women.

Over 40 participants attended the opening ceremony, including the creators of “Continental Shifts,” a podcast aiming to explore Samoan and Filipino-American identities by discussing education, politics, union organizing and hip-hop. 

This event was hosted by the AAPI Heritage Month Planning Committee in coordination with the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs. It was co-sponsored by the United Asian American Organizations and the APID/A Staff Association. 

Public Health junior Victoria Minka, student coordinator for the AAPI Heritage Month planning committee, began by acknowledging Tuesday night’s shootings. 

Minka emphasized the prevalence of xenophobia in the United States before asking attendees to honor a moment of silence for the individuals who were killed Tuesday, as well as others who have lost their lives due to hate crimes and racist violence. 

“This violence is not new to us,” Minka said. “There is a pattern of xenophobia and racism towards Asian Americans that only feels like it’s beginning to be recognized by the American public. We know its history, and we feel the reverberations of this pain.”

Many students commented in the chat that they came to this event to be with a safe, comfortable and supportive community. Many others said they came to offer support.

Gabriel Tanglao and Estella Owoimaha-Church, hosts of “Continental Shifts,” began with acknowledgments that the places they were Zooming from — New Jersey and California — were stolen Indigenous lands and recognized the tribes native to that land. 

While discussing Tuesday’s shootings, Owoimaha-Church shared various Samoan proverbs that create space for kindness and community.  

The two said their podcast originated when they met at a leadership event and connected over their curiosity about their heritage, which eventually became the project’s focus. 

“It’s really about wayfinding and self-reflection along our journey in the diaspora,” Tanglao said. 

Owoimaha-Church said while the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges, it also provided an opportunity for the pair to meet virtually and collaborate on a podcast about identity in ways they may not have been able to previously.

“When we first met … we were talking for hours and hours on our identity (and) roots, where that intersects with anti-Blackness, Blackness, how our social consciousness was raised by Black feminist thought and where do those conversations get to live,” Owoimaha-Church said. “And so the pandemic, as terrible as it has been for so many folks, it gave us an opportunity to work in this virtual space and it gave us the opportunity to really build on the work that so many Black Lives Matter folks did.” 

Both also commented on how young people are commonly left out of discussions about how racism affects individuals, particularly in school curricula where the long and nuanced history of racism may not be adequately taught. 

“While we are here to guide, facilitate, be in their lives and help them grow, we also need to spend as much time listening as we do talking to folks, if not more,” Owoimaha-Church said.

Owoimaha-Church also said she thinks conversations about racism should focus on highlighting the complexity of American racism while unequivocally condemning white supremacy. 

“We must have very nuanced conversations about race, (while not allowing) white supremacist culture to muck up our relationships,” said Owoimaha-Church.

One student asked in the chat how one can learn to love their culture when their culture was looked down upon or subject to racial violence. 

“It’s a lot of unlearning and detangling white supremacy and this soup that we all were conditioned and socialized in,” Owoimaha-Church said. “And it is a daily, active thing. Checking your language and your verbiage, thinking about the things you choose to post or not.” 

Tanglao also referenced the Community Cultural Wealth Framework model by Dr. Tara Yosso, a professor of education at the University of California, Riverside, which describes six forms of cultural capital. The model challenges common interpretations of cultural capital by including forms like linguistic capital and familial capital.

Both Tanglao and Owoimaha-Church stressed the lack of education on the history and culture of AAPI communities in American schools. 

“We can start early, ethnic studies can begin in preschool,” Owoimaha-Church said. “We can work that all the way through the K-12 system. We shouldn’t have to wait until we are freshmen in college to see ourselves … reflected in the curriculum.”

LSA sophomore Madelin Chau, a member of the opening and closing ceremony committee, said she hoped the month would encourage people to learn more about the unique identities of AAPI communities. 

“I just hope that people (…) become more interested in learning beyond this month, beyond these few months, and better just engage in the community,” Chau said. “I really hope to see people, even outside of the AAPI community, really pressing into these things.”

Daily Staff Reporter Ivy Muench can be reached at ivmuench@umich.edu.

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